Two Oscars


Yes, I saw two Oscar-nominated and Oscar-winning movies this weekend!

One was “The Shape of Water“, this year’s Oscar Winner for the Best Movie. Before I get into some comments, let me mention one thing – while this is a fabulously directed movie (Director: Guillermo del Toro) and wonderfully acted by Sally Hawkins as the lead actress who is mute, it is still a fable – a story which combines an extra-terrestrial alien with Cold War secret experimentation and a mute woman who falls in love with the alien (as apparently she has not found love in her life). In my considered opinion, this movie is more about the kind of “eternal” love we all aspire for in our own lives. The fact that it happens between a scaled, terrifying creature and a normal human being creates an aura of romance, love, empathy and passion.

I was surprised with the level of nudity in the movie given that it would always be a sure bet for the Oscars. There are several scenes which does not require much imagination on the part of the audience. Nevertheless, the director has weaved such scenes beautifully into the overall storyline, so that we do not feel at all odd watching these scenes. That skill does not come easily to most directors.

“The Shape of Water” is a beautifully directed fantasy story, trying hard to connect with the reality of this world (or the world of the Sixties). It is hard to believe that two janitors in a super-secret military research facility could kidnap a well-guarded “asset” (as they call the creature in the movie), spirit him away without making much of a noise, escaping in a ramshackle van when the military should be able to send fast cars to chase the van and retake the “asset” – but that does not happen! After this miserable loss of the “asset” the director of the facility goes on a wild goose chase trying to find clues for the disappearance, and accidentally discovers the potential whereabouts of the “asset” in the apartment of the mute. The tempo builds up nicely, and like most everyone watching the movie, I was disappointed when the director of the facility locates the creature and shoots him. But then, the creature possesses “god-like” powers and kills the director, and escapes with his love mate (Sally Hawkins).

Good story, in parts totally unbelievable, but a love story with touches of reality and as I said, directed by Guillermo del Toro in an amazing way, leading to the Oscar win in the recently concluded event.

The second movie is “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri“. I was wondering what kind of movie would elicit such a long name. Frances McDormand who is the lead actress in the movie won the Oscar Award for Best Actress in the recent 2018 Oscar ceremony. She delivers what I would call a stunning performance as the aggrieved mother of a brutally murdered daughter, who demands justice from the police department in the small town of Ebbing in Missouri. There was not a sagging moment in this drama of a movie, and my wife & I enjoyed Frances’ acting thoroughly. She brings to life the real feelings of how such a mother who has unjustly and brutally lost her daughter would feel all the time. Her grief is demonstrated throughout the movie in subtle and sometimes not so silent manner. I was thinking “what has America come to and why is it so violent” – for a country which is #1 in the world in most social, economic and military parameters, why it does not dawn that violence is not the way forward in ordinary peoples’ lives and why police have to be so brutal in smashing normal people, and why racism rears its head on most occasions in their lives. As the police chief writes in his letter to the angry police guy on his team, it is more important to develop a sense of calmness, because thought flows through calm and hate needs to be removed from oneself who is performing service to people.

Frances (I am using the real name of the actress) delivers an amazing stand-out performance in this movie, and impresses even the police chief against who she had put up the three billboards demanding justice for her daughter. Her rage against injustice is palpable and dominates the movie.

It is normal for Frances to possess rage and feel angry all the time because justice has been denied to her daughter in her mind. It is proportionate to her loss. But what about scores of people (which includes cops) always feeling angry against everyone and everything around them? Especially in America. This is not healthy at all. Such angry folks resort to violence, and the damage they cause is disproportionate. In fact, in most cases, these people do not deserve to be angry, and certainly are not entitled to rage.

Overall, this is a good movie, though the issue of race has clouded its acceptance. Without going into that aspect of the movie, I can only state that Frances’ acting prowess has not ceased to amaze me – she is probably the best fit for the character. Even with some good Pinot Noir, the image of the angry Frances and her machinations to get the police to act, remain fresh in my mind as I am ending what has been a wonderful Saturday of movie-watching – the Oscar types!

See both these movies, they both are great.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

10th February 2018

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Atomic Blonde


This post is not just about one movie.

Whenever I travel, I get to see multiple movies. During my recent travels, I saw the following selection of movies on Singapore Airlines flights:

  • Atomic Blonde, starring Charlize Theron (one of my favourite actresses and James McAvoy)
  • American Made, starring Tom Cruise
  • American Assassin, starring Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien
  • Security, starring Antonio Banderas (one of my favourite actors) and Ben Kingsley
  • El Bar (The Bar), a Spanish movie starring Blanca Suarez

There were other movie that I wanted to see, but couldn’t for lack of time. I will surely see them in the near future.

In all the above movies, there is a sense of escapism – I do not think such movies are “real” in the experience of a commoner like me. However, these movies could have happened in real life in the Western world – the first three movies involve spy agencies such as MI6 of the U.K., and the CIA of the U.S. The 4th movie is an unbelievable one – just a few security guards who lack any weapons defend a helpless girl against a massive team armed to the teeth wanting to snatch the girl away, her only crime being a court witness in a trial against the armed gang. The last one is totally unbelievable – it is a story of a simple coffee bar in downtown Madrid which gets into trouble with security services due to the fact that couple of its patrons were carrying the Ebola virus – hey, come on. Totally incredulous, the remaining ordinary folks in the bar all kill each other in search of the anti-virus serum, and all action during the entire movie happens in that tiny bar and underneath in its cellar and sewer.

I admire the directors who venture to take such daring movies – I would be surprised if any of these movies were to become big box office successes, though all of these movies are interesting action movies. Adventure and thrill characterise all the movies, and some of the actors are outstanding – Charlize Theron, Tom Cruise, Michael Keaton, Antonio Banderas, et al.

I look at the very short synopsis of the movie in the KrisWorld magazine, look at the names of the actors, and check to see if there are English subtitles. Then I select the movies, and tackle them one by one. I see non-stop, right through the flight, so that I get to the finish of the last movie – if for some reason, I cannot do that, then I continue from the last movie onwards during the return flight.

Movies make me think on the sheer escapism of life. We like to see what we ourselves cannot or will not do in our own lives. It is simply because of the pleasure of imagination – I like to visualize myself as a CIA or MI6 Agent for instance, and parachute into action in a global city with all the resources of the State supporting me, and with the thrill of rapid fire action encompassing me. How about that? I am not going to drive a bike even at 80 KMPH anymore in real life! I have never touched a gun (except for the thrill shots in game machines in a video parlour), and it is likely to remain so for the rest of my life!!

So, here we are – we know there are spy agencies, and well-trained secuirty guards almost everywhere. But we do not see spy action or the Antonio Banderas action. As I walked back from the gym yesterday, I realized how much muscle buildup would be necessary to tackle any surprise attacker – I do not have even 40% of what would be required. We do not pay attention to gym workouts and do not focus on body exercise and development, so we do not stand a chance in fighting an usurper. I am happy the younger boys are getting military training, and I would think that the girls also should pick up similar training. It is essential pre-requisite for self defence.

Enjoy your weekend folks, we have one more day off due to the Chinese New Year long weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th February 2018

SPLIT the movie


I went to the cinema to see this psychological horror-thriller movie recently, because my wife said that this will be a good one since the director is the famous Night Shyamalan of “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” fame. I said fine and went along – the mistake I made was that I did not look up on the movie’s storyline and reviews. So, it was a total surprise, and shock to see what truly turned out to be a horror movie with unexpected twists and some gory scenes.

To start with, the movie (like many Hollywood horror and crime movies) reminded me that there are many deranged, mentally unstable and psychologically challenged folks around us (not just in the U.S., but it will appear that their existence seems to be predominantly in the Western world, and especially in the U.S.). Coincidentally, I read just yesterday that the U.S. Congress overturned a previously passed bill which will restrict mentally disturbed folks to obtain guns (which means that the U.S. Congress now says that it is absolutely all right for mental patients to buy guns without any further checks and roam around cities, doing whatever they wish).

It is no wonder directors and story tellers get ideas from the real world happenings in these so-called advanced societies. The main reason why a person gets into a mentally disturbed state or into a multiple-personality disorder state is because of parental abuse, or because a close relative abused the person during his or her younger years – well, this situation is not restricted to advanced countries, it also happens in other countries. However the key difference is that the legal system in advanced societies treat these patients rather kindly (probably because there is advanced psychological, psychiatric and medical help available) and let these folks back into society, while in developing countries, there is apparently more caution exercised especially when there is a criminal angle. When there is a clear case for suspecting that a person is abnormal, and has tendencies to inflict crime on unsuspecting people around him/her, then a restraint is absolutely necessary, weighing the society’s safety to be more important than the individual’s.

Coming back to SPLIT, the movie, the key thing which stands out is the eerie cinematography and the direction. Of course, James McAvoy has delivered a stunning performance as the person who has multiple personalities which dominate him at different times. I will be remiss if I don’t mention the amazingly talented Anya Taylor-Joy, who is one of the three young girls abducted. The mind games she plays against James McAvoy in the movie are thrilling, and her vulnerable demeanour adds tension to what is already an environment filled with unexpected turns and twists.

Betty Buckley comes as Dr Fletcher, who is the psycho-therapist for our patient. She is fabulous in putting together the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle and realizes that there is something wrong with her multiple-personality patient. I expected her to go with some police assistance to the home of the patient, but she doesn’t, adding further to the thrill and tension. I also expected her to survive, but she…………

Well, at the end, I would say that Night Shyamalan has laid out his plans for a sequel, as the “beast” survives, not caught by the police. SPLIT is an absolutely thrilling movie which challenges our understanding of complex mentally challenged patients, and how an otherwise normal individual can be completely taken over by another damaging and harmful persona. Such patients pose a huge challenge to society, and need to be handled carefully by the medical community – they cannot just mingle with the rest of the society until the time they are cured, but then the cure could be an illusion as we saw in this movie.

Now I realize how difficult it would be for the person concerned to be in and out of multiple personalities, and even more so how hugely challenging it would be for the psychologists/psychiatrists to decipher the problems of such patients and then render the appropriate treatment on an ongoing basis.

An amazing thriller, but hold the arm rests tightly.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th February 2017

Two Hitchcock Weekends


After seeing Brian De Palma movies, and reading about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock on Brian De Palma, I persuaded myself to see a few of the Hitchcock movies. Like most of us, I had seen the Psycho movie by Hitchcock, and so I knew I was entering the crime thriller genre emphatically with Hitchcock movies. The only major difference with Hitchcock was his stylish and substantive approach to movie-making unlike many of the current day directors. He also had a way with the movie camera which remains unmatched till today – the camera takes you through the scenes and you could feel that you are almost there at the scene.

I went about some research on Hitchcock movies and selected the following five (though in a rather haphazard manner – after selecting one, I switched it with something else as I got fascinated with that particular storyline for example). Take a look at the list below:

  1. North by Northwest
  2. Vertigo
  3. Strangers on a Train
  4. Frenzy
  5. Notorious

I have not stopped seeing Hitchcock movies but took a logical break now, having seen some of his best work in the above movies.

I am not going to review each one of the above movies. These are classics in their own right. Many of you might have seen some of these or all of these movies. They are all wonderful movies, providing a visual experience unmatched in today’s movies.

While I did not see the thrill of Psycho in any of the above movies, I enjoyed the storyline in each one of them. I am fascinated by the black and white movies of 1930s and 1940s. They are an amazing treat when the technology was far inferior than it is today, and obviously required a huge amount of talent, skill and concentration.

Out of the above five movies, I would rank Vertigo (because of the suspense) and North by Northwest as the best. However, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed all these movies, and I am planning to see few more of the Hitchcock movies in the near future. It is a wonderful experience, I am not able to explain why I missed out on these classics for so long !

Look up these movies and enjoy your weekend evenings.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

19th July 2015

Entertainment Progeny


Sometimes it is amusing to note that none of the entertainment progeny (descendants of entertainers) have made it big in a non-entertainment field. Not anyone that I have come across so far. I am referring here to actors and actresses in the film world.

Why is that the second generation of Bollywood actors mostly hail from filmy families ? There are others who have sprouted from nowhere, and are trying to establish themselves with no roots and no background, but they are a minority.

It appears that the Bollywood regalia is just like the major political party of India – it believes in sustenance of its future by virtue of the children coming up from the previous generation of actors. It is no wonder that acting quality has declined due to the heavy dependence on past glory of a “daddy” actor. There are many examples one can cite, but for want of decency I am not going to name anyone.

I see very few Bollywood movies, but save one or two exceptions, I find that brand new actors without any pedigree tend to do well. May be there is the heavy pressure on them to prove their acting capability and establish themselves as actors, bereft of any support that could come from established actors and channels. There are some very fresh faces on their own, which is a pleasant sight ! I like to see independent actors make it to the limelight and not be stymied in their attempts to make it big in Bollywood.

The curious thing is that there seems to be no gene in the actors’ progeny that makes them an engineer, or a doctor, or a chartered accountant. I cannot understand why, except to surmise that the parental and environmental pressures are too high to deviate from the “chosen” field of acting. There is always the “beauty” factor, the progeny always look good, or better than their daddy or mommy. Many such factors could be at play, the most inevitable being that which forces the kid to conform to a pattern that is already well set.

So, there has to be a clash between the progeny and the independent fresh faces, right ?

Surprisingly, there is none whatsoever. There is competition and insidious forces could be at work. However, it is the public who make the right choices. If they like an actor, they are going to vote with their feet at the theatres. The selection is made in the minds of the teeming youngsters who make up the bulk of the mall/cineplex/movie population these days.

There have been many a flop at the box office last year where the action was from the progeny, and similarly there have been several box office successes coming from the independent actors.

It is puzzling to think about why the top actors did not produce an outstanding surgeon, or an IAS (Indian Administrative Service bureaucrat) Officer, or an entrepreneur ?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
12th February 2012
Mumbai

Schatten der Zeit – “Shadows of Time”


I was at the gym last evening, when I chanced upon this movie while flipping through the TV channels. It was such a good movie that I could not just walk out of the gym, and then had to come hurriedly to my home to continue watching the movie.

This is a rare occurrence for me, as I am not a movie fan in general, surely not the Kollywood and Bollywood type. I enjoy an occasional Hollywood movie, and very rarely a full-length Indian movie, as I do not subscribe to the mindless violence and meaningless dance and song sequences. Even the Hollywood movie needs to be highly qualified to deserve my attention, with the best of breed in direction and acting.

So, I was truly surprised at “Shadows of Time”.

It is a Bengali movie directed by a German director, and had some excellent actors. I was touched by the storyline and the very artistic way that the director managed to convey the story with its attendant emotions. Simply superb acting by actors that I did not know, or haven’t heard of, and directing by a rather unknown director of foreign origin.

I would strongly recommend this movie for a thoughtful and enjoyable experience. This movie made my last evening – truly a wonderful movie which would leave strong memories. Especially when the lovers are near and yet so far apart, when they know that they are going to be separated yet again, that the past was gone and the future was also not certain. It is a complex story and makes you think, you try to guess what is going on in the actors’ minds, how they are going to resolve what is essentially unresolvable in life. Any day a better movie than the usual masala Bollywood flicks. Again strongly suggested.

Florian Gallenberger, the director, has delivered a true masterpiece, the film deserves a 4 star rating. Given that he is a German, I am amazed at the quality of his understanding of Indian ethos and emotions, and the cinematography of the movie. I hope he comes back to India for making yet another masterpiece.

A great experience.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
18th December 2010
Mumbai

Aamir Khan at Economic Times Award Function


The one actor that I have been impressed about in Bollywood is Aamir Khan.

Most actors are also-ran. May be around 3 to 4 actors are very good. A couple of them are really world class. Aamir Khan is probably a world-class actor.

Not just a Bollywood actor, but a guy with a real heart.

At the Economic Times Awards Function on Sunday, 10th January 2010, he was a special invitee. He made an excellent speech, which I am sure impacted the corporate chiefs in the room. The one predominant theme in his speech was the development of children. He said that most parents, almost all, ask their kids if they have done well in their school exams, if they have achieved #1 or #2 position. No parent ever asks their kids if they helped any other person that day. The other theme in his speech was “inclusive growth”. Aamir asked why should special-needs children be segregated from the normal children at school – why are we not allowing our kids to mix with disabled kids. Why are we not including all children in our developmental efforts ?

He also stated, in response to a question, that he focuses on his job whole-heartedly with passion. He does not bother whether his movie will be a box-office success. He loves a script and then plunges into movie-making. If his creativity and passion transforms a movie into a success story, so be it.

Aamir’s given topic was “Lateral Thinking”, and he joked that his not being able to speak on that topic, in itself, is lateral thinking ! It was a wonderful speech from an intellectual actor, with great concern for the society and children.

I was further impressed !

Listen to him at “Aamir Khan wows audience at ET Awards function”

and,

“Aamir Khan at ET Awards: This star touches a chord on earth”

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan
10th January 2010
Mumbai